Thursday, January 18, 2018

Treading the Boards

Film: The Royal Family of Broadway
Format: Internet video on laptop.

While there are still some beloved and frequently seen movies left in my Oscar lists, I am getting to the point where a lot of what I still have to watch are films that are pretty much forgotten. That’s absolutely the case with The Royal Family of Broadway. Honestly, I’m just happy that there was a version of this to watch on YouTube. This film evidently exists in terms of physical media only in a UCLA vault as a 35mm print. That there are versions that appear online is fortunate, because it would be easy for this to be a completely forgotten film.

The Royal Family of Broadway was evidently based on a stage play, which was itself a rough biography of the Barrymore family. We’re going to be spending a good bit of time with our theatrical family and dealing with all of their different foibles. For what it’s worth, there are going to be four main members of the Cavendish family that we will have to deal with. Fanny Cavendish (Henrietta Crosman) is the family matriarch and absolutely convinced that life in the theater is the right life for the whole family. Her daughter Julie (Ina Claire) is a stage actress as well, but is considering getting married to wealthy financier Gilmore Marshall (Frank Conroy). Julie’s daughter Gwen (Mary Brian) wants to marry Perry (Charles Starrett) and give up the life entirely. And then there is Tony Cavendish (Fredric March), the family’s prodigal, who has gone out west to be in movies and, because of his wild ways and wantonness, has been forced to leave the coast, return to New York, and attempt to book passage to Europe on Aquitania.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Pacific Heights

Film: Pacific Heights
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I’ve never been a believer in the talents of Melanie Griffith. I’m not sure what it is. There’s something about her that simply doesn’t work for me. Most of the time, when I see her, I wonder why the film producers didn’t get someone else. Melanie Griffith seems like the poor man’s Meg Ryan, like the actress you get when you can’t really get the actress you want. Honestly, I think that’s an unfair assessment of her; the truth is that I just don’t care for her that much. This fact has kept me from getting to Pacific Heights for some time—this being the final movie on the original Bravo list of 100 Scariest Movie Moments for me to watch. Completing a list certainly seems like it’s worth a little Melanie Griffith.

Like many a good thriller, the set up here is pretty simple. A young, unmarried couple named Patty Palmer (Griffith) and Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine) decide to purchase an old fixer-upper in San Francisco for more than they can really afford. The idea is that they will live on the top floor of the house and rent out the bottom floor as a pair of apartments. This starts out as a “white people issues” movie—they’re charging a combined $2300 rent for their two apartments, and this doesn’t come close to covering their actual mortgage, which, with the apartments filled, is just slightly less than the combined rents of their original apartments.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

She Drinks a Whiskey Drink, She Drinks a Vodka Drink

Film: I’ll Cry Tomorrow
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

It took Susan Hayward five tries to win an Oscar. Four of those five, including her eventual win, were portrayals of women had fallen in some significant and terrible way. That terrible failing might be alcohol (Smash-Up), booze and a bad marriage (My Foolish Heart), or crime (I Want to Live!). With I’ll Cry Tomorrow, it was a return to alcohol, and many of the same places she went in Smash-Up. It’s also a return to what she did in With a Song in My Heart, in that she’s playing a real person and a real life.

I’ll Cry Tomorrow is the story of Lillian Roth (Hayward), an actress and performer in the early days of the movies. Roth was thrust on stage by her mother (Jo Van Fleet) and forced into a life of performance. It’s never really clear that this was something that Lillian wanted for herself. In fact, when she, out in Hollywood, reconnects with David Tredman (Ray Danton), a childhood friend, she’s absolutely ready to ditch the life completely. David, an entertainment lawyer, gets some solid gigs for Lillian as the two prepare to get married. But David suffered from some mysterious (and never defined) malady, and he dies suddenly while Lillian is on stage.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Superman Who?

Film: Wonder Woman
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

There are a lot of different ways that I could approach Wonder Woman. Do I look at this as just another superhero movie? Is this the first salvo in a world where women are actually going to be taken seriously as filmmakers? Is this yet more evidence that moviegoers care more about story than they do about specifically having a male character at the center of the film? All of these are probably true—and with the last possibility there, it’s a position I’ve held for some time. While not everyone looks at movies the way I do, there is plenty of evidence that the majority of the general movie audience are interested in story and character and far less interested in things like gender and sexuality. A good story well-acted is just that, and for most people, that good story could be about anybody—any gender, any ethnicity, etc.—and the good story will still play. That, more than anything, is the success of Wonder Woman, and the idea that people everywhere were shocked by its success is kind of sad.

The chances are pretty good that you’ve already seen this, so I’m not going to go into a great amount of detail on the plot. A group of essentially immortal warrior women live on an island shielded from the rest of the world. These women were created by Zeus to act as a guard against the treachery of Ares, who sought to destroy mankind. Among the Amazons is young Diana (Lilly Aspell), who wants to train as a warrior, but is prevented by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Diana (Gal Gadot as an adult) trains with her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), and it’s a good thing she does, because eventually, the rest of the world is going to crash in on the hidden island of the Amazons.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Think They Work in Queens?

Film: Prince of the City
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Prince of the City comes on two discs. Since the film is under three hours in length, I’m not entirely sure why it ships on two discs, nor do I understand why roughly two-thirds of the film are on the first disc and less than an hour on the second. I don’t understand why this couldn’t have been done as a double-sided DVD, nor do I understand why films that are as long or longer manage to squeeze everything onto a single DVD when that simply couldn’t be the case here. But what do I know, right?

All of this would suggest that Prince of the City is a long film, and it is, stretching just under three hours (roughly 167 minutes total) on its twisting way through a tale of dirty cops, cops who are only dirty in the sense that it allows them to get even dirtier players, and just simple dirt. Sidney Lumet’s original desire for the film was to have an unknown in the main role (Treat Williams, in this case, and he did qualify in 1981) and for the film the cross the 3-hour barrier. He got close enough to that one, because I’m not sure what more there is to say about this topic in the film.